Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts won New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Tuesday, securing his status as the Democratic Party’s front-runner and rocketing his candidacy into next week’s frenzied round of cross-country contests.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was far behind in second place, enough to keep his hopes alive but far short of the close finish his aides said he needed to rebound from last week’s weak third place in Iowa.
Far behind Dean, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who had staked much of his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, was battling for third place against Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the third New Englander in the race, struggled to keep pace with them.
With 75 percent of the vote counted, Kerry led with 38 percent and Dean had 26 percent.
Kerry greeted uproarious supporters in a ballroom of the Holiday Inn in downtown Manchester and aimed directly at Bush:
“I have a message for the influence peddlers, for the polluters, the HMOs, the drug companies, big oil and all the special interests who now call the White House home: We’re coming. You’re going. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
Kerry’s robust victory, coming off last week’s impressive win in the Iowa caucuses, means he’s reinvigorated his campaign and has history on his side as the man to beat. Since 1976, every candidate who won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has won his party’s nomination.
Kerry’s campaign was all but given up for dead by many pundits, pollsters and analysts last fall after he failed to register well in early polls, his campaign contributions declined and he fired the head of his campaign staff. But since mid-December, he’s sharpened his message and worked tirelessly to sell himself as the candidate most likely to beat George W. Bush in November.
With few issues separating the Democratic candidates, voters increasingly responded to Kerry’s message. In New Hampshire he drew support from practically every voting group – young, old, and working-class voters as well as higher income professionals. It wasn’t always enthusiastic, however.
“I voted for John Kerry because I think he stands the best chance of beating Bush, not that I like him that much,” said Tim Mardanes, a Manchester resident. “I would have voted for Joe Lieberman, but I didn’t think he could twist arms the way they need to be twisted in Washington. He seemed too nice.”
By securing second place, Dean managed to avoid a total debacle. Seven days ago, he was in a freefall, at least in the media, after his Iowa loss. His overexposed “primal scream” speech to his supporters in Des Moines, Iowa, also cost him votes. But Dean marched back by securing his voting base, softening his image by appearing in a televised interview, playing a few licks on guitar and holding hands with his campaign-shunning wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg.
“He’s got feeling. He lets his emotions out,” said Daisy Marie Cross, a retired nurse from Manchester, after voting for Dean.
Dean confronted Kerry, arguing that his ability to motivate voters, many of whom had never been involved in politics before, made him a more powerful foe against Bush.
“I have questions about whether we can possibly beat George Bush with somebody from inside the Beltway, somebody who can’t, as we have, bring in all these outside folks, young people, people who haven’t voted before,” Dean said on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday.
“We really are going to win this nomination, aren’t we?” Dean told screaming supporters. “People of New Hampshire have allowed our campaign to regain its momentum, and I am very grateful.”
Appearing before jubilant supporters in New Bedford with his wife Gert, Clark said: “We came into this race as one of the elite eight. Tonight we leave New Hampshire as one of the final four.” His supporters screamed “three, three,” in reference to incomplete vote results showing him narrowly ahead of Edwards for third place.
Edwards, who slipped into fourth place behind Clark by 1 percentage point, still hailed the results.
“New Hampshire has been very good to a visitor from North Carolina,” Edwards told a ballroom jammed with volunteers, supporters and staff. “Ten days ago we were 20 points behind General (Wesley) Clark, and look at what we’ve done. We’re going to take this . . . extraordinary momentum and take it right through to February 3rd … We have so much work to do.”
The election now moves into a different stage, when contests pile up on each other and campaigning becomes a blur of airplane takeoffs and landings from South Carolina to Missouri to Arizona and points in between.
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Kerry, working against type, reinvigorated his campaign with a personal stump style that at times seemed as if he would take every question from every undecided voter in the state. The approach was well suited for Iowa and New Hampshire but is impractical as the campaign hurtles toward Feb. 3, when seven states have nominating contests.
Holding primaries that day are Missouri, South Carolina, Delaware, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico. North Dakota will hold caucuses. Michigan and Washington state hold caucuses on Feb. 7.
The Rev. Al Sharpton and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich virtually ignored New Hampshire. Sharpton, who’s black, could be a factor in South Carolina, where he’s spent time building support among black voters, who may make up 50 percent of the primary turnout. Kucinich isn’t showing significant support anywhere.
Kerry had television commercials ready to air in all Feb. 3 states. One ad highlighted his experiences as a gunboat skipper in South Vietnam and the other attacked special interests in Washington. He planned to fly from Boston to St. Louis Wednesday. Over the next several days he planned to be in South Carolina, Delaware, Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma and North Dakota.
The Dean campaign, which pulled its ads in Feb. 3 states to concentrate on New Hampshire, said it will touch down in South Carolina, Michigan, New Mexico, Arizona, Missouri and Washington state over the next five days.
“Because of how the world changes, what might have looked like a defeat a month ago, looks like a comeback,” said Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has endorsed Dean. Still, Stern said, “He needs to win a state … I don’t think he can go much past Michigan,” without winning one.
Clark plans a whirlwind day Wednesday, jetting from Tulsa, Okla., to Phoenix and Oklahoma City. Clark has ads up in South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota and Oklahoma.
Over the weekend and on Monday, Kerry packed his day with appearances across the state, riding his bus and hopscotching in a helicopter from one side of the state to the other. At every stop, he encouraged audiences to pepper him with questions and to “check out my gut and check out my heart.”
“I’m running out of my guts,” he told students, faculty and local residents at Dartmouth College.